Electric Vehicles (EVs) have started to become a common sight of the everyday landscape with e-rickshaws and e-scooters popping up on every corner even in tier 2 and tier 3 cities. The market of EVs in India is expected to reach $ 15,398 billion by 2027 from $1,435 billion in 2021, a growth of a whopping 47.09 % CAGR as per reports. This development is remarkable given that EVs first came on the Indian road scene in 1996 with the scooter’s India Pvt Ltd giving India its first EV. Following that BHEL came up with e-buses in 2000. Rising environmental consciousness, competitive pricing and technical edge over counterparts such as doing away with the need to change gears and getting rid of the uneasy vehicular noise have contributed to its rise in demands. Given the bright prospects of EVs, there is going to be a lot of production and purchase of such vehicles bringing along with a lot of e-waste to be dealt with, particularly with the spent batteries.
ISSUES WITH THE DISPOSAL OF EV BATTERIES
EV vehicles play a significant role in controlling air pollution and lowering global warming but their mass production and demand will present challenges in the near future if the EVs batteries are not handled properly. Production and manufacturing of EVs are important for meetings the growing demand of the populace but what matters more is the proper and eco-friendly disposal of EVs batteries. These batteries are now mostly made of lithium-ion cells which consist of a cathode and an electrode. Rare elements like lithium, nickel, cobalt, and copper are used for making these batteries and its component, i.e., the cathode. Mining of this element has adverse impacts on the environment and the impacts are more harmful when the used batteries are disposed of in landfills and incineration. In the UK, each year, lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are blamed for about 48% of all waste fires. These used batteries, which are not disposed of appropriately, generate fumes, and their rare element cause environmental pollution by reacting with other elements present over the earth’s surface. Recycling the batteries is not as simple and affordable as it is difficult and expensive to separate cells which are held tightly by the support of materials like glue during recycling. Moreover, the process of recycling sometimes results in the release of toxic fumes which are impacting the health of nature and living beings. It is found to be cheaper for battery makers to buy freshly mined metals than to use recycled materials in the current expensive disposal system. Therefore, a better method for recycling and disposing of EV batteries needs to be adopted otherwise EVs will be vice rather than virtue.
REGULATIONS GOVERNING THE DISPOSAL OF EV BATTERIES
The Ministry of Environment and Forests in 2001 under the powers conferred by sections 6, 8 and 25 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (29 of 1986) notified the rules relating to the regulation, collection and recycling of spent EV batteries especially those of lead-acid. Lead-acid batteries were the norm around the time these rules came out. These batteries are difficult to be disposed of since they contain toxic lead and sulphuric acid. These rules made various stakeholders like consumers, manufacturers, assemblers, reconditioners, importers and recyclers responsible for the whole process of the disposal. The government through these rules paved way for tracking the sale and import of such batteries along with establishing an environment-friendly way of recycling batteries through clearances given to specific recyclers. The rules helped in protecting the environment from toxins of such spent batteries but as numbers increased and other types of batteries like lithium-ion based became popular, they proved to be ineffective to deal with the same.
The EV batteries continued to be governed under the 2001 rules up to the current year. During this period many new electric waste rules were notified. However, this new set of rules regarding the broad aspect of electric waste didn’t cover the batteries of electric vehicles. E-Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011introduced to ensure the management of e-waste in an eco-friendly manner by enshrining the concept of “Extended Producer Responsibility”, E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016related to the responsibility of Producers of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) for the disposal of e-waste in a scientific and environmentally sound manner through a target-oriented strategy and E-waste (Management) Amendment Rules, 2018which envisaged phased wise disposal of electric waste are some of such regulations that came in.
To overcome the shortcomings of the rules notified in 2001, the government of India published the “Battery Waste Management Rules, 2022” ” on 24th August this year. The concepts like circular economy and principles like Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and Polluter’s Pay have been inducted into these new sets of rules. This regulation requires battery producers to provide provisions for collecting, disposal, and recycling of various kinds of batteries including EV batteries. Polluter’s Pay Principle will be levied on those who don’t abide by this concept of EPR. There is a prohibition on the disposal of EV battery waste in landfills and incineration as well. Apart from this, the rules have brought in the concept of a “minimum percentage of recovery of materials” from waste batteries, envisaging that used battery parts will inevitably be used in the production of new batteries. A defining feature of the rules is the focus on achieving certain targets of collecting and recycling batteries within a particular timeframe along with digital monitoring for the implementation of the rules.
SHORTCOMINGS IN THE PRESENT REGULATION
The Battery Waste Management Rules, 2022 addresses various issues in the disposal of spent EV batteries. However, the new rules meant for better management of the spent EV batteries have some shortcomings in them too. The possibility to use labels to show the carbon footprint of the battery is lost under the new regulations. The rules are also forgoing a chance to establish certain standards in regards to the composition and construction of the batteries for various categories of vehicles to aid an effective recycling system for the diverse set of batteries and facilitate the incoming battery swapping policy, where used up batteries are exchanged for new ones. Another shortcoming is that the lead-acid batteries used in EVs are the only ones covered by labelling regulations, lithium-ion battery requirements are not covered. The auditing procedure used for producers, recyclers, and refurbishers has also not been made visible, resulting in a lack of transparency in the process.
The growth and potential of Electric Vehicles can play a significant role in reducing the pollution emitted from everyday life by using carbonized transport by replacing it with EVs that promote the idea of a decarbonized means of transport. To achieve the main aim of the said rules, provisions related to penalization of the individual with an environmental compensation charge for non-compliance to the framed rules should be promoted and the name of defaulting entities should be made public on the CPCB website. Another crucial aspect is to mandate the use of labelling for reflecting the carbon footprint of the battery as this would have made an environmental impact more transparent and reflective promoting certain standards and limits regarding the composition and construction of various kinds of EV batteries.
The future of the automotive industry is electric. As the entire industry is going through a transition phase, problems will arise. Be it this year’s incidents of EV scooters catching fire as a result of their batteries bursting into the flames or issues with the disposal of spent batteries. Naturally, newer issues with battery swapping policy will rise as well. In the end, regulations need to keep up with time. The safety standards brought in response to fire incidents and rules regarding the management of batteries brought this year are steps in the right direction. However, the policymakers would need to think ahead in advance so as to keep the confidence of consumers intact and facilitate the green transition.
Authors Name: Rahul Ranjan & Aditya Pandey (National Law University Odisha)